Jobs doesn’t care about selling Macs

It’s hard to argue with the point of view advanced by Randall Stross in a New York Times piece this weekend — namely, that Apple could be doing a better job of capitalizing on the stumbles of Microsoft Vista. For every guy like billionaire Mark Cuban who switches to a Mac, there are about 95 people buying machines with Vista on them, and that statistic hasn’t changed all that much despite the so-called “halo effect” generated by the iPod.

steve_jobs2.jpgSo why hasn’t Apple done a better job of converting people into Mac owners? Because Steve Jobs doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the PC market, that’s why. I admit that I have no evidence whatsoever for making such a statement — other than the obvious, which is the fact that the company doesn’t even have anyone on the board dedicated to the Mac, as Stross details in his story. It seems fairly clear that it isn’t as important as the iPod business, and that Apple may not even care about winning more of the corporate market, which is what it would take.

Still, I can’t help but have the feeling that Steve-O’s sights are set a little higher than chewing another percent or two out of Bill’s overwhelming market share in PCs. I think the iPod got Apple started down the personal electronics and entertainment road, followed by the somewhat lacklustre AppleTV, and now the iPhone and the iPod Touch have moved the company into mobile.

Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the best hockey player because he handled the puck all that much better than everyone else (although he did). It was because he didn’t just skate to where the puck was, he skated to where it was going to be. I think Steve is trying to do the same thing.

Viacom tries for a network of networks

I had almost forgotten about the rumours from six months or so ago that media and entertainment giant Viacom had bought a stake in Tagworld, a MySpace-style social network that I tried a few times and quite liked, but which never really seemed to get much traction, despite being well-desgined. Now it appears the rumours were true: Viacom has used the company’s technology to build micro-networks for its various brands.

According to the description on TechCrunch and in a Fortune magazine piece written by my old pal Richard Siklos, Viacom is not trying to create a simple MySpace knockoff — which I give them credit for. What they are trying to do, however, sounds much more difficult in a way: they are creating micro-hubs for artists, shows and channels (such as MTV and The Comedy Channel), and then allowing users of one network to move content and profiles and other data in between the different sub-networks.

The project is called Flux, and it apparently includes not just Viacom properties and portals but also other non-Viacom sites such as the website for the band The Pussycat Dolls and a skateboarding site called As Richard notes, users of an MTV site can even copy and paste videos or other content from their MTV pages to a MySpace page.

In effect, Viacom is doing the opposite of what MySpace has done, and is trying to tie together existing networks rather than creating its own. “We’re not trying to own a social network, build one, or compete with one,” says MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath. “We’re embracing them all.” PaidContent, meanwhile, says the Flux project is old news, and that Viacom is just cobbling together old projects and trying to make them seem like a coherent strategy.

Were Techmeme and Sphere too greedy?

Kara Swisher at All Things D reports that Yahoo has acquired a blog aggregator — or “meme-tracker” — called Buzztracker for the bargain price of $5-million or so. Not a bad payout for a site that appears to have been founded and run by a couple of guys. Co-founder and CEO Alan Warms, who is a friend of VC Fred Wilson’s, becomes general manager of Yahoo News.

I have to confess that while I have heard of Buzztracker, it seems like a distant also-ran in the meme-tracker game. I check religiously because it is by far the best (most timely, least spam-filled, most efficient at finding new blog posts that are on topic, etc.), and also check Tailrank and Sphere from time to time, but have never paid much attention to Buzztracker. And I don’t think I’m alone in those habits.

Which raises the question: Why did Yahoo buy Buzztracker and not any of those other sites? It’s possible that Yahoo isn’t all that bright, and just picked the first meme-tracker with a cute name, or figured that $5-million is about what Terry Semel blows on the corporate jet every year, so what the heck.

Or it could be that Alan Warms struck someone at Yahoo as a good GM for Yahoo News, as Kara suggests in her story (the head of Yahoo’s media group apparently reconnected with Warms at the D5 conference but says he has known him for years). But from what Kara says, it also sounds as though some of the other players in the space wanted too much money:

“Yahoo had looked at other better-known competitors in the space, such as the San Francisco-based Sphere… but those trendier (and more popular) startups apparently had too lofty valuations.”

Of course, it’s possible that some of them jacked the price up because they didn’t want to be acquired by Yahoo, but didn’t want to say no 🙂 The bigger question, of course, is whether Yahoo plans to integrate meme-tracking into Yahoo News somehow, or just keep it as a sideline the way Netscape is with Propeller. TDavid takes a look at how Buzztracker stacks up to Google News here.

Fair use costs/makes money — discuss

It’s funny how all those press releases that the record industry sends out about the costs of music piracy rarely ever mention “fair use,” a concept that is an integral component of copyright law in most countries. It’s as though the idea never existed. But then, admitting that copyright regulations are a tradeoff between two opposing forces — fair use and creative control — would get in the way of pushing the whole “downloading is theft” idea.

To counter some of those one-sided arguments, we now have a study from the Computer and Communications Industry Association that says fair use of copyrighted works generates $4.5-trillion in economic benefits. As Mike Masnick notes over at Techdirt, you could quibble with the methodology of the CCIA study, but it is no more one-sided than all the anti-piracy “facts” that get circulated by the record companies. Says CCIA president Ed Black:

“Much of the unprecedented economic growth of the past 10 years can actually be credited to the doctrine of fair use, as the Internet itself depends on the ability to use content in a limited and nonlicensed manner.”

According to one measure used by the study — “value added,” or the difference between an industry’s costs and the gross economic output it generates — fair use has contributed substantially more to the U.S. economy than the copyright business has (although there are problems with this, as Nick Carr describes in his own inimitable style). The study itself is here.

As the Inquirer points out, the amount of value created by fair use may even be higher than the CCIA study estimates, since much of the economic value that is generated by the music industry is driven by publicity and media reports — both of which would either not exist, or wouldn’t be as powerful, without fair use. Not surprisingly, Google has a pro fair-use post on its public policy blog.

TV got you down? Welcome to the Web

Techmeme has the news about Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz creating a show for MySpace and the Web — here’s a story I wrote for the Globe about it yesterday, after talking to MySpaceTV general manager Jeff Berman.

Facebook may be getting all the headlines lately, but MySpace still has a few cards up its sleeve — including the connections it has to some of the top names in traditional media, thanks to its parent company, media and entertainment giant News Corp.

The social-networking site announced today that it has signed an exclusive deal with Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, the Hollywood duo that produced such hit TV shows as Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, for the rights to a new Internet drama the pair are working on, called Quarterlife.

Episodes — or webisodes — of the show, which follows a group of twentysomethings through the eyes of one young girl with a video-blog, will appear first on MySpaceTV, and then on the website.

Jeff Berman, the general manager of MySpaceTV, said in an interview that the show was a “landmark moment” for MySpace, and that it would be “the highest-quality serialized content ever to appear on the Internet. We’re talking about the same production values as 24 or Prison Break.”

News flash: Digg headlines not “real” news

If there’s one thing that really drives me around the bend, it’s when people misinterpret academic or quasi-academic studies and draw all kinds of ludicrous and sweeping conclusions. It’s something the traditional media love to do with opinion surveys (most of which are completely unreliable), and the blogosphere has a tendency to do it as well. And we can see a prime example with a recent study by The Project for Excellence in Journalism.

I have no problem with the PEJ looking at the headlines on and and and comparing those with the stories that appeared either on television or in mainstream media outlets. The project looked at stories over a period of seven days at the end of June. Not surprisingly — at least for anyone who has ever been to any of those sites — there was very little overlap with the stories that traditional media found important.

And what are we to gather from this research? Well, according to people like Nick Carr, it apparently shows that the “people formerly known as the audience” are thick-headed numbskulls and mouth-breathers who are only interested in a narrow slice of tech or other stories, and don’t care about the issues of state or the other topics that right-thinking people pay attention to. In classic Carr fashion, he concludes:

“When you replace professional editors with a crowd or a social network, you actually end up accelerating the dumbing-down of news. News becomes a stream of junk-food-like morsels.

The people formerly known as the audience may be more accurately termed the people formerly known as informed.”

The first problem with Nick’s approach is that it uses Digg and as representative of the entire phenomenon known as “social media” or “citizen journalism,” which is like watching two television shows and reporting that the entire landscape of TV as we know it is an insipid swamp (an argument that would actually be a lot easier to win — but I digress).

As James Robertson notes on his blog, one of the reasons why sites like Digg and Reddit aren’t filled with the top-most important and newsworthy stories on Iraq or the flooding of Texas is that every other news site was filled with those things. To me, one of the main things that makes Digg and Reddit valuable is that they allow people to promote stories and links that aren’t getting enough attention — not the ones that are.

Danny Sullivan notes that “to draw any definitive conclusions about the future of news would be premature and foolish given the limitations and short duration of the study.” But people like Nick are happy to do so anyway. Dan Gillmor has some brief thoughts on the topic here, and there’s a good look at the study at SFGate as well. My friend Scott Karp has his take at Publish2.0.

Google: Welcome to Privacy 2.0

Although Google’s “Street View” visual search service isn’t in Canada yet, federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart already has her hackles up about the idea. Why? Because the service involves taking millions of photos of street-level scenery, and some of that scenery just might include people — and that, she says, might contravene the requirements of the federal privacy law, PIPEDA (if you really need to know what that stands for, you can look here).

citizen media.jpgAs it happens, Google’s relatively new service has a strong Canadian connection already, since Calgary-based Immersive Media is the company that has been sending out squads of cars with 360-degree cameras mounted on them. In fact, Immersive already has a significant library of images from major Canadian centres such as Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. You can see a full map of the routes and cities that the company has already scanned on its website. Ms. Stoddart says she has already written to both Google and Immersive Media, telling them that she is concerned the new service will breach the protections included in PIPEDA and asking them to respond.

Street View “does not appear to meet the basic requirements of knowledge, consent, and limited collection and use as set out in the legislation,” Ms. Stoddart said.


In a comment on my Globe blog, Colin McKay from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner says that the office is discussing with Immersive Media what steps they might be able to take “to render their images at a lower resolution to avoid the sort of concerns we have raised.”

This is an issue that the U.S. has already had to confront, since the service was rolled out earlier this year. After it was launched, users started posting snapshots of people — their faces fairly recognizable — being arrested, leaving adult video stores and urinating in the street. One woman posted a picture of her apartment, in which her cat was clearly visible in the window, and said she felt like she was under surveillance.

Google says it is more than happy to take down photos if someone complains, and has also pointed out that it contacted women’s support shelters and other institutions before launching the service and doesn’t include photos of those kinds of sites. The company also says that the pictures it is using are not an invasion of privacy, since what they show would be readily visible to anyone walking or driving down the street.

At the same time, however, it does seem as though there is something qualitatively different about what Google is doing. For one thing, the photos can be seen (theoretically) by millions of people, and they are also (theoretically) permanent. And yet, they are taken from a public street — something anyone with a cellphone could do if they wanted to. Does it matter that this is being done by a large, for-profit corporation? It seems to.

And still, the question remains: Where do we draw the line? Former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy famously said in 1999 that “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Not everyone is willing to do so, however.

Real-life experience with the new Google News


Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford emailed me about this post, and said that “only a tiny fraction” of the content that the newswire shares with aggregators such as Google and Yahoo comes from its member papers. Here is his comment in full:

“AP’s state wires, which include member content, are not licensed to Google and other online aggregators.

As a result, only a tiny fraction of the national and international stories sold by AP to aggregators originated with members of the cooperative – typically scoops credited to the members.

Except for this tiny fraction, the stories sold to Google and others are original AP reports by agency staffers.”

Colford also said that the Nashua Telegraph yearbook story described in the post below moved on the AP wire with a tagline that gave credit to the newspaper (although I didn’t see any such credit on the Google News version).

Original post:

I got a comment on one of my posts today from Damon Kiesow, the managing editor of the Nashua Telegraph, and I thought it was worth highlighting here because he talks about a real-world example of what the new Google “hosted news” deal with Associated Press is like for newspapers such as his.

According to Damon, his paper wrote an offbeat story about a girl and her problems getting a picture into her high-school yearbook, and Associated Press picked it up — and now is ranked as the top source. Here’s his comment:

Our first experience with the new AP/Google partnership:

The yearbook story was an offbeat piece that was picked up by the national wire. So, instead of Google giving our version ( top prominence – the AP/Google page gets the traffic.

As Damon points out, even the other newspapers that picked up the wire story — such as — are given preferential treatment in Google News, and the original Nashua Telegraph story comes up at the bottom of the search results. But there’s a silver lining, says Damon:

“Despite our angst at this, we have the last laugh as ended up pointing at our version, driving 40 – 50k pageviews to that one story this morning.”

Welcome to the ever-changing world of Google-driven news. Steve Yelvington has some worthwhile perspective on the Google AP deal here.

Netscape packs bags, moves to Propeller

My friend Muhammad Saleem — a top Netscape submitter — just dropped me a note to say that the former Digg-style Netscape social-news site will be reborn at some future date at a site called Tom Drapeau has a somewhat lacklustre post on the move over at the Netscape blog (at least Jason Calacanis knew how to market something with a little energy).

Muhammad — who was more than a little ticked at Mike Arrington and others for what he saw as an overreaction to the news that Netscape was changing — says he likes the branding. I’m okay with it, for what it’s worth, but I’m not clear on what Propeller is supposed to convey really. There’s also no timeline on when the site will go live, which kind of makes me wonder why they bothered. Why not wait until it’s ready to go?

I know Muhammad thinks people rang the death knell for Netscape too early, but I still wonder how many people are going to switch over to the new site. For whatever reason, I think the name Netscape had a certain drawing power, and it got lots of traffic in part because it used to be a portal. To start over with a new site and name is going to be an uphill climb, I think.